Sepsis and septicemia are nearly identical terms which have often been used interchangeably to describe life-threatening infections which have spread throughout the body. They arise from various infections, including those of the skin, lungs, abdomen, and urinary tract. Despite high treatment costs, the conditions are often fatal. Even when they are not fatal, they often leave the patient with permanent organ damage, cognitive impairment and physical disability.
Over the summer the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a study of the rates of treatment for these conditions and the likely outcomes for patients who experience them. The data were significant and troubling. Here is a link to a summary of the report. http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db62.pdf
Among the important findings were that the rate of hospitalizations for sepsis or septicemia had more than doubled from 2000 to 2008. Significantly, overall hospitalizations did not increase during the period. Patients who were over 65 were over 12 times more likely to be hospitalized for these conditions than patients under 65. The older the patient, the more likely they were to have sepsis as a cause of the hospitalization or to have acquired it during their hospital stay. Patients over 85 were 30 times more likely than patients under 65 to be hospitalized for sepsis or septicemia. Sepsis was deadly too. Although only 2% of patients were hospitalized for it, it accounted for 17% of all hospital deaths. Since most of the patients being hospitalized for sepsis were over 65, Medicare was the primary payer for their care.
Why so many more hospitalizations for sepsis and septicemia? The study authors suggested that the factors included an aging population with more chronic illnesses, greater use of invasive procedures, the use of immunosuppressive drugs, chemotherapy, and transplantation.
The authors also mention an international effort to increase survival rates. The “Surviving Sepsis Campaign” offers guidelines such as sepsis screening on arrival for all high-risk patients, the use of broad spectrum antibiotics while awaiting the results of culture and sensitivity tests, identifying the source of infection and treating it, administration of IV fluids to counteract loss in blood volume, and control of blood sugars. Those hospitals which have tested the guidelines have reported encouraging results in decreasing mortality.
These finding underline the fact that sepsis must be recognized and addressed as early as possible. The sooner it is recognized and aggressive treatment is begun, the better the chance that the patient will not only survive but that he or she will make a complete recovery.